Nearly 300 schoolgirls, including kindergarteners, and female teachers have reportedly been poisoned this week in the western Afghan province of Herat and the Taliban, which is opposed to women’s access to education, is suspected to be behind the three gas poisoning incidents.
News outlets have reported different estimates of how many girls actually breathed in poisonous gas during three separate incidents at two Afghan schools.
Mohammad Shafiq Sherzai, a spokesman for the Herat Zonal Hospital, reportedly said that at least 126 students and teachers, all females from the private Habibul Mustafa Schoo in the provincial capital Herat city, were rushed to the hospital after falling sick on Monday.
Some news outlets quote Sherzai as saying that 140 schoolgirls were poisoned on Monday.
As many as 68 school girls, also from the Habibul Mustafa School, were hospitalized for the same condition on Wednesday, reports CNN.
Yesterday, for the third time this week, hundreds of parents in Afghanistan’s Herat province sat in the Herat Zonal Hospital waiting after an additional 115 schoolgirls from a separate unnamed school were allegedly poisoned by some type of gas, Sherzai reportedly said.
The girls were between nine and 18-years-old, he noted.
Pajhwok Afghan News reports that when taking into account teachers, an estimated 134 people were exposed to toxic gases on Thursday.
In total, nearly 300 girls were poisoned by toxic fumes at two schools in Herat province “in a suspected attack by Taliban militants,” reports Daily Mail.
Afghan officials suspect foul play with some accusing the Taliban.
“The three incidents were suspiciously similar,” Voice of America (VOA) learned from officials, who now believe the gas may have been deliberately leaked at the schools.
Abdul Razaq Ahmadi, the education chief in Herat told VOA, “that the perpetrators were enemies of education and growth,” suggesting “a big conspiracy.”
He said “that people needed to pay attention to the enemy’s intentions.”
Ultra-conservative elements in Afghanistan oppose female education.
The Taliban eliminated women and girl’s access to education while it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
In 2001, the Taliban was ousted by the U.S.-led coalition, which remains in Afghanistan.
Without pointing the finger to any specific group, Aseeluddin Jami, the deputy governor of Herat province, also said he believed the incidents were carried out deliberately, reports CNN.
“Attacks against schoolgirls in Afghanistan happen with alarming frequency, often by militants who believe girls should not go to school,” adds the report.
“These incidents have also taken place in Kabul, Bamyan, Maidan Wardak, Jawzjan and Badakhshan provinces in recent years,” notes Khaama Press.
No specific group has claimed responsibility for the alleged poisoning attacks.